Episode 16 - The Gift of Forgiveness
Why it’s important to forgive yourself, your family and friends and your addicted loved one
One of the bests gifts to give yourself during the holidays, forgiveness
This will be my second Christmas without my daughter Laura who struggled for 15 years with addiction but lost her life to overdose on December 21, 2017, right before the holidays. But even when Laura was with us, holidays were often stressful because I never knew what kind of tension and drama she might create for the family.
It’s so easy to sit back during the holidays and beat yourself up. Your friends are all having a wonderful Christmas dinner, opening their gifts, and connecting with family. Your family may have been turned upside down, so you reflect on how you managed to get yourself in this mess. You look at what you did or didn’t do to create such a dysfunctional family, holiday or in my case lose a loved one. So now it’s time to open up the gift of forgiveness.
It’s not your fault. I repeat, it’s not your fault. Your loved one had a genetic predisposition to develop the disease of addiction because the genes that trigger it run in families. Ten people could go to a party, have a drink and not feel uncontrollably compelled to keep going. But that 1 person in 10 that is genetically pre-disposed will have their brain’s reward center triggered to need more of the substance that caused their dopamine production to go wild. It’s not your fault that those genes ran in your family just as it’s not your fault if you have diabetes in your genes. Your loved one didn’t develop the disease because of you.
Don’t blame yourself because of your parenting. Parenting is hard enough no matter what someone tells you. Everyone makes mistakes and you’ve likely made more than a few when it comes to managing an adolescent that become oppositional, then defiant, then a drug user and then an addict. Trust me that I was one of those parents with my daughter Laura. But you need to give yourself a break. It’s hard to make the best decisions when you are in the middle of a war and under siege. Addiction may have come on quickly not giving you the time to be fully informed and ready. Everyone makes mistakes, even parents with those picture-perfect kids. It’s time to forgive yourself for any parenting missteps during this crisis.
Forgive those people around you. You are going to be surprised at the friends, family and co-workers who just didn’t understand the depth of your struggles. You may feel their scrutiny and disapproval and find them distancing themselves from you. Although that may seem terrible, it’s perfectly understandable that they don’t really understand because nobody can unless they have walked in your shoes.
When I first sent my daughter Laura to wilderness therapy treatment, I chose a New Year’s Eve party to announce my decision to my friends, some of which knew about our struggles and others did not. I was greeted with, “How could you?” and “Why didn’t you try other things first?”. At first, I was insulted and horrified that they just didn’t get it because that was one of the hardest decisions of my life. But then on reflection, I began to understand why they didn’t get it. They had never had an experience like this. I decided to forgive those people and years later shared with them how their comments did me a favor to enlighten me about how to better manage my conversations with others when it came to my daughter and help others do the same.
And finally, forgive the addict you love. My daughter did some terrible things in the throes of her disease. She would go months without answering my calls or texts making me fear if she was safe. She would attack me verbally when I pressed her about her behavior. She lied to me to get me to do the things that she needed so she could keep using drugs. Although I was angry with her, fortunately, I let that go before she overdosed and died. In her final weeks, I shared with her that we were both adults and had the right to make adult decisions, even though we were in disagreement about what those decisions were.
Addicts can be the most frustrating, unlovable, and difficult people to be around. But in the light of the brain disorder they have, it’s important to direct your anger and frustration where it belongs most, at the disease itself. It’s not to say that you should roll over and just let any behavior go. When your loved one crosses boundaries and treat you disrespectfully, you should develop language that goes something like this:
- I have a problem that I need your help with.
- When you do this, this is how it makes me feel.
- In the future, I would appreciate it if you could change what you do.
- Can I get your help on this?
Forgiveness is a difficult thing, but powerfully healing. Forgive yourself first because addiction is a complex disease to understand and it’s not something that you caused. Forgive yourself for mistakes you make along the way in trying to help your loved one. Forgive others around you who haven’t walked in your shoes and may not understand. And most importantly, forgive your loved one. They wouldn’t have chosen to live such a difficult life and you never know when your next encounter with them might be your last.